Martina Magnoli Klimesova from Czech Republic has had an amazing agility career with her mudi Kiki. They have 7 medals from World Championships, of which three are individual gold, the latest of which is from 2018. Watching them run, one would never guess that people actually condemned Kiki early on: “A lot of people told me that she is not good enough. But I did not listen to them.”
A strong bond - the most important aspect
Martina’s previous dog, malinois Joys, had many behavioural challenges, so she had already learnt how to deal with those. In fact, when she and her husband met Kiki for the first time, all the puppies ran towards them, except for Kiki who almost killed herself trying to escape in panic. “I still remember that moment because my husband said “OMG and with this we’ll have to live for another 15 years”. But even though Kiki was the shiest puppy Martina had ever met, she did not consider it a problem: “I was sure I can help Kiki feel more confident. So I did not see her as the shiest puppy - I saw a puppy with a big heart and never ending energy.”
Kiki and Martina bonded strongly in a few hours: “She simply decided I am the one she needs in her life and our strong bond made me extremely happy.”
The lack of natural agility talent surpassed with well thought out training and a good relationship
Martina says that Kiki was not a natural talent in agility. “Kiki did not even like agility. But she loved me, so she did it for me.”
Martina puts a lot of thought into training: “With a dog like Kiki, you need to train somewhat differently than with dogs who have natural drive for the sport. All my training is based on understanding, so I train through small exercises and games depending on the dog needs. I do not run sequences or courses much.”
“I have a rule - if I do not see a progress in 2 to 3 months, I change the method. It doesn’t mean my dog has to understand the behavior perfectly in 2 to 3 months, but I have to see some progress. When you are not able to teach your dog something, it doesn’t mean that you or your dog are stupid. It simply means you haven’t found the optimal way to communicate your expectations to your dog yet.”
For every “problem” (Martina does not consider them as problems), like fear for the seesaw, she came up with a game outside the agility ring. “There we solved the problem in a way that was fun for Kiki. The training has to be fun - for me and for my dog. Otherwise I don’t see a reason for doing it.”
Martina uses treats and toys in training, but considers social contact as the best reward there is. For this reason, the relationship between the dog and the handler is very important: “If the dog runs just for her/himself, or for a treat or a toy, then the dog will always give just 100%. But in the case of Kiki, 100% would have meant that we’d never have been able to go to the start line. She had to give more than 100% to not escape the course in competition at the beginning, because she was noise sensitive, scared of the judge, scared of other dogs and people. So, only a dog that works for us, only a dog who is happy when we are happy, can give more than 100%.
Speed developed in time
In the beginning, Kiki was not a good jumper nor a fast runner. The problem was that she did not “collect” so she could not extend. She took many small strides which may look fast but it’s not. Only a dog who takes long strides can run really fast.”
Martina worked a lot with Kiki’s speed: “We trained jump grids a lot. It helped her. The progress was slow, but it was there. When we started, she couldn’t keep up with my pony when I went riding, but with time she was running by the side of my pony and in the end she was running in front of us even when my pony was going as fast as possible.”
The goal: beautiful, breath-taking clean runs with an 85% success rate
Martina thinks a lot of people give up too early and too easily: “To become a World Champion, should never be the goal. We should have a dog to have a friend, to enjoy everyday life together, to have fun in training and from time to time to compete as well.”
“I did not dream to win the World Championship. I was just so happy with our strong bond! I did not understand when some people told me that she is too shy, she is too small, she is too slow - for me she was perfect exactly the way she was.”
In time, Martina set a goal for her and Kiki “Our goal was to be able to run nice, fluent and “cool” clean runs with an 85% success rate in competitions. I did not care if some dogs were faster. But in the end Kiki got more and more speed. I think she reached top speed when she was 5 years old. However, for me it would have been ok, if this had not happened. This kind of a goal suits everyone!”
Secret to Kiki’s long career
Kiki was already 10 when she won her latest World Championship gold medal in 2018. And Kiki is not the first of Martina’s dogs who is so fit at an old age. “My first malinois, Bara, was 3rd in the Czech Championship when she was almost 11 years old! Yes, she was faster than some much younger dogs. She was fit and healthy for many more years, doing 3-hour trips to the mountains when she was 14 years old.
But how does Martina succeed in keeping her dogs in good condition for so long? As a vet, she knows one or two things a normal agility handler probably doesn’t. “Today, agility is quite difficult for a dog and it takes a lot of time to teach the needed skills to him/her. I think it is better to wait just a few months longer to do “real agility” and with that possibly increase the amount of years to run with the dog. There is no need to start competing when the dog is 18 months old.”
Martina says that speed connected with fast reactions and turns puts too much pressure on a young dog’s body: “The ossification is not finished, the muscles are not developed enough to protect joints and ligaments, the coordination and proprioception is not matured. I am very sad to see how many dogs have health problems when they are 4 to 5 years old (or even earlier).”
“I don’t train agility before my dog is 12 to 14 months old. I have a 1-year-old border collie Nemi. Until now, we haven’t trained tunnels, slalom, aframe, seesaw, whole DW, or any sequences. But she already knows a lot of things thanks to our special games. It’s better to concentrate on building the basics with puppies; to build the relationship, play small games and work on developing the dog’s balance, coordination and proprioception.”
Another thing that Martina says is behind the long career of her dogs, is that she gives them an agility break of 6 weeks at least. “Then the body can recover from the strain caused by agility. No professional sportsman competes in the same sport throughout the year. The body would not endure it. Skiers compete in cycling during summer, for example. NBA season doesn’t last a whole year either! The older my dog is, the longer the agility break. And I add one more shorter break after EO.”
High expectations can complicate development
“If I’d had high expectation for Kiki, I would never have been able to take it easy and concentrate on the small things. Many “I have to win people” would have given up with her.”
But if Martina hadn’t been able to concentrate on the small things, Kiki would never have become the skilled and happy dog she is now. Thus, high expectations can seriously weaken one’s chance to train one’s dog in a way that it becomes the best version of itself.
“We need to stop listening to our ego and stop thinking “I have to win”. It’s impossible for everybody to win. I think the most important thing is to love the dog without conditions, to not care about the medals, but always try to our best in training.”
“I love all my dogs. I love them all in the same way I love Kiki! Every one of them is special in their own way. If we open our eyes and we stop thinking about medals, then miracles can happen.”
For Martina and Kiki miracles did happen: “We have won a medal in the last 7 AWC we took part in. The last medal melted my heart! It was similar to EO 2015 in Germany where Kiki struggled with the sand surface, but in the final she was running like never before. I think she felt it was so important to me that she gave her 300%. In Sweden it was the same. 10-year-old Kiki felt “now this is very important” and she gave her everything in the final. She did it for me. I would have been happy even if we hadn’t won. Because I knew what she did for me.”
Martina’s tips for agility handlers
Martina is a very experienced dog trainer and also educated as a vet, so she really knows what she’s talking about. Here are some tips she wanted to share with all agility handlers:
Try to find the best way to explain to your dog what you want her/him to do.
Do not compare your dog to others. Your dog is special.
Don’t start agility training too early.
Play and have fun!
Use AgiNotes to help you concentrate on your dog’s individual needs
One of the reasons AgiNotes exists is that it helps you concentrate on your dog’s individual needs. Every puppy has his/her challenges and you need to grow together, build a strong bond and learn how to celebrate small wins. This way you will take steps towards the best version of you two as a team.